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Holidays In The Numbers: Death On A Walking Trail; Watching The Detectives (In Orinda)

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David Ruenzel

A quiet Holiday weekend in The Numbers has proven to be anything but as a well-liked former teacher from Danville is gunned down on a local walking trail and a minor mushroom cloud erupts over Orinda as school district officials backpedal after a sympathetic account of a child facing disenrollment because of residency issues surfaces in a local newspaper.

Both stories struck chords with others throughout the area – for widely different reasons.

Hikers and writers and pupils of David Ruenzel, a recently retired journalism professor at the Athenian School in Danville, mourned his loss and the sense of security veteran walkers and contemplative thinkers derive from treks down local walking trails after Ruenzel was found dying from two bullet wounds in Huckleberry Regional Preserve in Oakland Tuesday. Ruenzel, who frequently walked the trail and others in the area, had been relieved of his wallet, according to police. Two men spotted on the trail at the same time are being sought as persons of interest in his murder.

Ruenzel retired from Athenian last year and had been working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the organization’s corps of writers and journalists, according to friends and family.

As locals reeled from the news of Ruenzel’s murder a Holiday tempest of an entirely different kind brewed up in Orinda, where school district officials admitted they’d used a private investigator to determine the residency status of a Justin Bieber-loving second grader who happens to be the daughter of a live-in nanny and who divides her time between a relative’s home in Bay Point and the home of the Storch family in Orinda.

The account, complete with pink-hued shots of the child’s Orinda bedroom, her Bieber doll and a reference to a nearby bible, threw coal on the Thanksgiving Day conversational fires as Orindans blasted the school district for employing at least one PI to – we presume – tail the second grader and her mother between residences. Locals also questioned the district’s motives, asking if the same action would have been taken had the child not been Latina.

One of several notes sent to this site in the wake of the story was from an Orinda mom who said that while she was “not happy” about people fudging residency status in order to get their child educated here, she had to ask if the district would have taken the steps it had if the child had been blond and blue-eyed.

“…we ALL (her emphasis) know that there are other kids at public schools here who do not actually live here in Orinda,” she wrote. “We ALL know that, and as much as the school district tries to disallow that, it happens. People pull strings, they know people, they say and write down all the right things in the right boxes…”

The Holiday Ending came Friday, when the Storchs were notified that their willingness to act as official caregivers for the child would be sufficient for her to remain in school, an extension of their household sufficient to appease the standards imposed by the district.

Crisis averted. For now. But what about ALL (our emphasis) those other kids currently in public schools who do not actually live in Orinda? We’ll just have to see.